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Human Rights Campaign assesses Fortune 500 companies, for fully-inclusive nondiscrimination; equitable benefits; structure for LGBT inclusion; and public engagement.

COURTESY: NIKE - Be True, from LGBTQ friendly Nike.

Nike has a long history of partnering with high-scoring athletes. But last month, the Beaverton-based company earned a perfect score all its own.

The sportswear giant received a score of 100 points on the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) Corporate Equality Index, a semi-annual report that ranks Fortune 500 listees and other large corporations on their inclusiveness and outreach toward the LGBT community.

HRC considers four key categories when assessing businesses for the Index: fully-inclusive nondiscrimination; equitable benefits; structure for LGBT inclusion; and public engagement.

"Federal law does not protect people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace," said Deena Fidas, the director of HRC's workplace equality index, when asked about the first category. "So HRC and our sister organizations partnered with the private sector to make those protections a reality in workplaces across the country. In other words, to persuade private businesses that it's in their best interest to be ahead of the law."

HRC takes into consideration not just a company's own U.S. nondiscrimination policy, but also its international policies, as well as the standards it holds for its suppliers and contractors.

With same-sex marriage the law of the land, it is now easier than ever for same-sex couples to receive spousal workplace benefits (though, as Fidas noted, challenges do still exist). But equitable benefits are not always available for transgender employees, FIdas said — though there has been considerable progress over the last 15 years.

Transgender people often undergo gender-confirmation surgery during the transition process, and getting coverage from employer-provided health insurance can be challenging.

"When we started the corporate equality index in 2002, not a single employer ensured that medically-necessary, transitioned-related care (for transgender employees) would be covered," she said. "We worked with scholars and advocates, and directly with businesses, steadily over the next decade."

By HRC's count, 58 percent of Fortune 500 companies — including Nike — now offer transgender-inclusive health coverage.

Fidas said that in addition to HRC's work on the issue, the change can be attributed to increased transgender representation in pop culture. Celebrities like reality star Caitlyn Jenner and "Orange is the New Black" actor Laverne Cox are outspoken about being transgender, and Nike included transgender duathlon athlete Chris Mosier in an ad campaign last year.

The third category looks at whether a company offers structural support — say, a workplace LGBT pride club or an inclusive human resources department — for its employees.

"Are they giving trainings? Are the resourcing for a network group of LGBT employees and allies?" Fidas said.

Finally, the fourth category measures public engagement — something Nike is particularly well-known for. In addition to the Mosier ad campaign, Nike puts out a limited-edition Pride line of clothing and shoes each year, and has an active presence in Pride NW's parade in downtown Portland.

"Nike has done some fantastic community engagement for their Pride products," Fidas said. "They've held up openly LGBTQ athletes."

The Corporate Equality Index is intended as a measuring stick for large corporations with hundreds or thousands of employees. But Fidas had some advice for small, locally-owned business as well: post clear non-discrimination policies in the workplace, and consider volunteering with a local LGBT-focused organization.

She also had a few words of wisdom for employees who want to make their workplace more LGBT-inclusive, but are afraid of rocking the boat.

"Come to your employer with a professional conversation about how, for example, the Fortune 500 or your sector peers have started to embrace LGBT inclusion," she said. "Frame it as a value-add to the business, as opposed to just an individual issue, or just an interest."

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